Playing around with Tracking Protection in IE9

How privacy protection in new browser works ... and doesn't

Microsoft is touting the Tracking Protection feature of its Internet Explorer 9 browser, now in release candidate

IE9 RC event San Francisco 2
mode, but how well does it work? I gave it a tryout and found that by selecting content to block did result in ads disappearing, I still had trouble determining which content providers are benign and which are evil. I’m also not sure how much time the average browser user is going to take to sort that all out.

I interviewed Kevin Trilli, vice president of product management at TRUSTe, one of four Tracking Protection List providers (TPLs) identified by Microsoft at the IE9 RC launch event Feb. 10 in San Francisco (see photo). I covered TRUSTe about 10 years ago when it was a nonprofit startup operating in a tiny cluttered office near the San Jose airport and bestowing the TRUSTe seal of approval on sites that it deemed had sufficient security to make online shopping safe. Today the for-profit company offers a variety of Web site security for businesses of all sizes, mobile applications and services to protect children online.

Now TRUSTe is adding IE9 TPL services along with PrivacyChoice, EasyList and Abine. With Tracking Protection, an IE9 user gets control over what content to allow and block in their browser, said TRUSTe’s Trilli.

“The issue though becomes how do they make that difficult decision? What are the criteria for what the tracker can do?” Trilli noted. “We’re helping them make that complicated decision because people don’t want to spend a lot of time understanding the specific nuances of this.”

I went to this page on Microsoft’s IE9 site to select which TPLs to help me block unwanted content and chose TRUSTe and PrivacyChoice. Then those two appeared in my list of TPLs, in a management console found under “Settings,” along with the selection “Your Personalized List,” which is a combination of both. Double-click on “Your Personalized List” and a second window opens called “Personalized Tracking Protection List.” This is a list of all the content providers known to TRUSTe and PrivacyChoice, perhaps 100 entries. Here you have a choice to “Automatically Block” all the content providers, or “Choose Content to Block or Allow.” In “Choose Content,” you can click on an individual content provider and then click a button to either “Allow” or “Block.” There’s also a link nearby titled “More information from this content provider” but several times I clicked on that I got a “Page Not Found” message, which makes me wonder if Tracking Protection won’t be fully operational until IE9 becomes generally available.

But when I chose “Automatically Block” all listed content, I could see the difference on various Web sites. A space below the heading “Sponsored Sites” on MSNBC.com was completely blank. Elsewhere, a banner ad was missing beneath, in tiny print, the word AdChoices, apparently the company that placed the ad that was invisible to me. On Facebook, vast areas of white space appeared where I previously saw ads titled “Single Women in Your Area” and “Teeth Whitening Secrets Your Dentist Doesn’t Want You to Know.”

This is all a blessing, but still makes me wonder if people will spend the time to separate the good and the bad content providers, the evil ones that steal personal information from the merely annoying.

And if they chose the “Automatically Block” all option, what are the implications for the ad revenue model for the Web?

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.